Friday, September 23, 2011

Here are 7 Ways the African Union can Move Away from its Egregious External Strategy

Here are 7 Ways the African Union can Move 

Away from its Egregious External Strategy

By E.K.Bensah Jr

Back in March, I had the priviledge of visiting the African Union, while in Addis for some capacity-building on peace and security of the AU, and I was pretty impressed with the tall building the Chinese are building for the organisation.

Germany's GIZ is also building the AU's Peace and Security Department, and will be completed by 2012. It ought to remind the world, then, that the AU has "arrived" in grand style on managing peace and security.

What irked me, though, were my impressions when I landed in Addis eight days earlier. Given that I want this to be a positive thing, let me offer solutions for the way forward:

First, the AU should have some Memorandum of Understanding between itself and Ethiopian Airlines that would enable it showcase the AU to regular and first-time visitors in the plane. Alright, show your movies, but have a twenty-minute video of what the AU is, what it does and where it will be in the future! Instead, what you have is a fairly modern airport that does not give any impression that it is the capital of African diplomacy.

Secondly, the AU should arrange for every blessed hotel in Addis to host an AU flag. A quick drive through Addis and you will be surprised at the city’s inability to convey that “Africanness” you feel when you arrive in Brussels. From Zaventem airport to the heart of Brussels, where the institutions are, you are likely to see more than hundred symbols depicting that Brussels is the diplomatic capital of Europe! While flags are not the end-all and be-all, they are certainly a step in reminding all and sundry that the AU lives there!

Third, the AU should have information bureaus in every AU country. Failing that, it should have diplomatic missions in “strategic” countries, such as Algeria; Nigeria; Ghana; Senegal. It would admittedly be expensive to have an information bureau or mission in every country, so being selective about the countries where they should be hosted would make sense. In Ghana, only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has information about the AU, and if you can hold your head in disbelief for a second, it is nothing more than a “desk”. Simply put, they are telling the world that ECOWAS and AU might be important, but they are unwilling to spend resources to project the growing power of the AU. If we can accept that the Cantonments-based “The Round House” is home to the EU in Ghana, why can we not have a comparative mission in the AU in every AU member state? Does the AU not think this to be important enough?

Fourth, the AU is on New Media; it can be found on . Truth be told, the AU is now a bit more proactive on Facebook, but could still do better. Despite the fact that it has some 2457 “likes”, it seems to have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the “likes” to the extent that it has not yet managed to respond to one single criticism or query on its apparent ineffectiveness. That said, I must give the AU benefit of the doubt when on 21 September last year, they run a campaign months earlier on to raise awareness of 21 September as AU and UN Peace Day, and to celebrate the launch of the AU’s Year of Peace and Security. They have regrettably lost the momentum on that, and let the site atrophy without regular updates. 

Fifth, while it is not solely the work of the AU, it should be the frontline actor pushing to ensure that citizens of AU member states travel to the home of the African Union visa-free! In Ghana, cost of a visa is certainly not as prohibitive as that of an EU member state, but it is one cost too many. If we are to accelerate continental unity – whether through the regional economic communities or otherwise – free movement must be an imperative of the solution. If Europeans can travel freely to Brussels, why must Africans have such difficulty traveling throughout the continent?

Which leads me to the sixth point: cost of airline tickets. The AU is a member of the Association of African Airlines(AFRAA), which has for many years been campaigning for airline fuel costs to come down. As recently as July this year, AFRAA initiated measures to tackle the high cost of Aviation Fuel(Jet A1),which is a major operational cost item in the industry.
The AFRAA secretariat has resolved to assist airlines meet with fuel marketers to reduce fuel costs in conformity with stipulations in the AFRAA 2011  – 2013 Business Plan. The irony of it all is that the Ethiopian Airlines I have mentioned above is one of those airlines, alongside Kenya Airways, that do not want to be members of AFRAA.

Finally, the AU must get serious on re-vamping the websites of all its institutions, including those of any AU delegations around the world. These should all be found on the main AU site. Up-and-coming institutions like the African Monetary Fund; African Central Bank; and African Investment Bank ought by now to have had websites—at least in beta form—to showcase their history and where they are going. Without these, how are African citizens ever going to know about what the AU does, and how people can help achieve their vision?

In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" ( Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on / Mobile: 0268.687.653.


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